The Three Musketeers, at least as Dumas wrote it, is more complex material. How does Julian Webber deal with the political and religious intrigue that underlies much of the original novel? The easy answer is that he doesn t, or at least keeps it to a minimum. And judging by the audience s restlessness in some of the longer exposition scenes – Athos s description of his ill-fated marriage for example – Webber s decision was a very wise one.
What this adaptation is long on is sword fights; there appears to be one at least every ten minutes. This could have been tedious but fight arranger Renny Krupinksi uses every trick to keep the audience interested. It must surely be a first for the London stage to have an omelette cooked in the middle of a fight.
The story is told in very simple terms and takes liberties with the original plot. Constance doesn t die, there is no Executioner of Lille and the three musketeers do not retire. It s a cute morality piece, far removed from the original novel – although Dumas would certainly have approved of the swashbuckling nature of the production.
However, having taken the decision to present a cut-down version of the play to attract the interest of younger generations, Webber could have made more efforts to involve the audience. The Queen s jewels get passed back to her by eager young hands in the stalls, but that is the limit of participation – something more should be done to keep juvenile minds occupied when there are no sword fights.
There is little opportunity for actors to create much of an impression either. Far too much time is taken running around. Phil Rowson is a likeable enough D Artagnan, his Yorkshire accent serving for a Gascon one. Candida Benson works hard as both Milady and the Queen. Unfortunately, the characters of the three musketeers themselves are only lightly sketched, so there is little opportunity for Stuart Goodwin, Ralph Casson and Bruno Munoz Rojas to show what they can do. David Baillie makes for a suave Cardinal and Graham O Mara is a silly-ass King, surely a spiritual ancestor of Blackadder s Prince Regent.
There are moments of real theatre, though: the journey to Dover where D Artagnan takes his leave of his three companions is presented as a series of set-pieces, exquisitely choreographed. Some more of that and a couple of fewer sabre clashes would have made for better theatre.
Of course, it would have been unlikely to have met with the approval of the harsh judges from the school trips who gamely booed the villains, cheered the heroes and jeered at the love scenes. One young man near me made his feelings known: as the villainous Cardinal exited the stage, this future critic shouted “tosser” after the departing figure. You don t get that at the RSC.